To be ready for what Conway Medical Center employees think will be a worsening COVID-19 problem, employees were working midday Monday setting up two triage tents to accept and test patients.

The medical center set up an outside tent March 16 for the same purpose, but Brian Argo, the medical center’s chief financial officer, said the new larger tents should help improve the safety of the staff and patients and put into place the proper professional protection process.

So far, the medical center has screened 150 patients; a total of 18 people have tested positive for the virus that is drawing attention around the world. Five of the 18 are inpatients at the hospital today and 15 more people are awaiting test results.

Argo thinks the medical center hasn’t seen the worst of the pandemic yet, and guesses that a peak might not come until the end of April.

Putting things into perspective, he said, 100 people tested positive for the flu in one week this month.

“We’ve got a lot of flu cases and nobody’s talking about that,” he said.

Still he isn’t downplaying the pandemic.

“This is concerning. It is. It’s concerning and it should not be taken lightly,” he said.

Officials expected the new tents to open today.

The new, larger tents are equipped with running water, heating and air-conditioning and portable x-ray machines, according to Argo, who said the tents are fully functional and can be used for patients, if the need arises.

Argo said officials are asking the hospital staff to follow the guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control for masks and how to wear them properly.

“The staff has been very positive,” Argo said, “They’re very upbeat. When the time comes for them to show up, they show up.”

Conway Medical Center decided a week ago to postpone all elective surgeries, thinking that would help free up staff for what he called the future expected burden.

“We do not think we have met our full impact from the disease here,” Argo said.

The financial officer said when they test outpatients who do not have the coronavirus, they route them on to their primary care physicians.

They put inpatients in isolation until their test results are confirmed to limit the danger to staff. They are also using virtual and telehealth visits.

Argo says they aren’t following up with patients who test positive to see where they might have been exposed to the virus; that’s a job for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

He credits the Horry County Emergency Management group and its director Randy Webster with helping the medical center secure the tests, the S.C. Emergency Management group with helping get the tents to the hospital and Horry County Fire Rescue with helping them put up the tents.

With the new tents, CMC will have the capability of seeing 150 to 200 patients a day.

So far, Argo said, there is no pattern as to age or vicinity for the COVID-19 patients they’ve diagnosed so far. He says he doesn’t think people in this area are panicking over the virus and aren’t showing up for testing for no reason. He said people who are presenting for testing are sick.

Again, Argo and CMC spokesperson Allyson Floyd wanted to remind people to wash their hands well and keep their hands away from their faces.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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